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The Pilgrim’s Crooked Progress

In a review of A.J. Swoboda’s book Dusty Roads, Leslie Fields writes:

We all have stories of getting lost. Here is one of mine: I crossed the Sahara one year on an expedition truck with 20 others, meandering from Cairo into the heart of Africa. We got lost often, once for three days, wandering farther and farther into the African bush with insufficient water, no GPS, and no people to point the way out. We were tense: we had to get off the dirt roads before the monsoon rains began. For most of those months, we were covered in dust, breathing through bandanas, praying we’d find the right path.

That’s one kind of “lost narrative.” Here’s another: As I write, I am on the brink of major life changes—some prayed for, a few drastic and unwelcome. I find myself stumbling, fearful, uncertain of these new snaking roads and unsure of God’s place in it all. Then I feel guilty. Where is my faith? Why am I not “counting it all joy” and skipping confidently into the sunny future?

A. J. Swoboda’s book, The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith, came to my door at the right time. It is, of course, about the second kind of trek: our pilgrimage toward the city of God, with its painful desert crossings and wanderings.

We all want a life marked by straight paths, smooth roads, and victorious arrivals. But as Swoboda argues, wandering is “an inescapable theme of the Christian experience,” even if the church has often minimized its inevitable role in every pilgrim’s progress.

Returning to my own story, our expedition truck arrived in Mombasa five months later, nearly on schedule. We beat the monsoon rains, but the trip was not just about getting there. Every village, waterhole, and sandpit along the way had purpose and value. So it is with our lives. Swoboda reminds us that “Christian spirituality is a slow train that must inevitably stop at every little Podunk town in our life—nothing can be skipped over.”

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